How to break an egg

MICHAEL BAY’S A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

I’ve heard that any aspiring chef would do well to learn how to cook an egg first. Master the egg, and then you can move on to bigger and more complicated dishes. But no so fast there, amateur chefs in the making: you can screw up an egg too, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that making A Nightmare on Elm Street is the equivalent to cooking a good egg. It isn’t that complicated to get it right, but you can easily screw it up. And like any egg, you can make it in different ways. Over easy, scrambled, soft boiled, hard boiled. According to http://panlasangpinoy.com/2011/02/25/10-ways-to-cook-an-egg/ there are 10 ways to cook an egg. There have been 8 movies about having nightmares on that fabled Elm Street, if you include Freddy Vs Jason, so this makes number 9. They all have various differences, and some (like part 2) don’t even follow the rules laid out by Wes Craven in the original. So there is still one more Elm Street movie you can make that’s different from the other ones already in the canon.

I think what’s interesting about the Nightmare series, which you can say for a lot of horror franchises especially Friday the 13th, is that no single film is the “standard” by which to measure the series by. Part one has Freddy at his most dream-like, usually hunkered in the shadows of an alleyway or in the boiler room. But that isn’t exactly the Freddy we came to know. His personality didn’t open up until part 4, where we began to see the wise cracking version of Wes Craven’s creation. I think Freddy’s Dead is where everything sort of came together, combining his flair for humor with his flair for toying with his victims. You could argue that the series went in the wrong direction, but I don’t think so. I think if we continued to have straight scares without any humor to them, we would have never known just how talented Robert Englund really was. It’s his charm and his personality that puts life into Freddy, and gives him iconic power. Wes successfully pulled that plug in New Nightmare, by making Freddy more archaic. And I guess that was the admission Platinum Dunes needed to argue that the role of Freddy could still work without Englund’s weight behind it.

I didn’t see this remake in theaters, because I was discouraged by the negative press it received, and by every Platinum Dunes and Michael Bay release that came before it. It’s just an amazing traincar of failed remake after failed remake, pulled forward by our nostalgia and our fondness for the movies we grew up watching as kids. We had no idea the tracks were laid down years ago. It just took a couple incompetent doofuses to put it to use (Brad Fuller and the other guy).

NOES wasn’t a killer at the box office, but it did pull in an average return the first weekend, about what they expected. It made its money back in a few days. And then it was followed by a steep drop off in sales which you could argue made the production  a waste of time for everybody involved. The diehard Freddy fans came out to see it, but no one else was really interested. And now these Platinum douches are finally learning that it’s not enough just to appeal to the hardcore base. Their next film is supposed to be “original”.

I am sure Brad and Andrew actually admire the NOES films. I saw hints of it visually. You can pick any scene and usually find an earlier incarnation of it in the series. Some are obvious, like the tub or Nancy’s bedroom, and some are less obvious, like the diner in the opening, or the swimming practice at the pool. But the feeling we get is that we’ve seen it all before, which is why the remake doesn’t work.

I’m not saying it isn’t a justified remake. Like I said, you can cook an egg 10 times and they can all taste delicious in their own special way. For instance, this egg has some interesting differences that the previous films do not have.

Pedophilia.

There is some ambiguity about whether Freddy was a pedophile but it’s no spoiler to say that instead of maybe being a pedophile he just was. Then some angry parents burned him into oblivion.

Now, the myth has circled around Freddy since the first film. He’s always had that rabid, sexual pervert quality, but it was really a relationship based around his yearning for Nancy. She might have been underage, but it was still a legitimate contest of strength. Nancy could overpower Freddy if she wanted. The screenwriters follow that thread here, but go one step further. They decide there is one thing worse than being killed in your dream. It’s being molested in it! By a guy with knives on his hand. There’s a scene where Freddy lies on top of Nancy in her dream, and doesn’t make much of an effort to kill her. He seems more interested in undressing her. There is another scene where Freddy kills a guy, but in the dream he tells him the brain doesn’t die for 7 minutes. So they have 6 minutes “left to play.”

That was a clever spin on things. Of course we don’t see what kinds of games he plays, something much worse than cards or Monopoly is my guess. There are always hints of sexual perverse things that could happen between Freddy and his victims. It’s all very dark, and very serious business.

Like we learn Freddy used to be the gardener at a preschool and he’d take kids to his “secret place”. What he did with the kids we cannot say, except that these are all memories the kids of Springfield have suppressed and which their parents tried to keep secret. But once Freddy comes back…so do the secrets. Of course if you question why Freddy waited until they were teenagers to have another go at them, and bring back all these painful memories, you would have to ask the screenwriters that one. It’s a leap in logic I don’t have an answer for.

The goose chase-then murder structure was pretty rigidly followed the entire series, so it’s a welcome shift to see Freddy using the power of sexual tension in his dreams, rather than just going for the kill.

So I liked those little changes.

The biggest change though, and the one I liked the least, was moving Jackie Earle Haley into real estate occupied by Robert Englund. This is not a character you can change out like a new pair of clothes when the old pair gets too old. We got an imitation of Freddy but the character was obsolete. Not a big surprise to anyone who saw even the first hint of what this remake looked like from the trailers, but it’s worth stating the facts of the case:

Englund brought something permanent to the role you cannot cover up with different makeup. And failing to see that is why we can call Andrew Form and his buddy the Platinum douches.

P.S. One of my favorite touches to this was the search engine name they used in place of “Google”, called “DigiBlast”. Instead of a button that says “Search” it says “Blast off!” It made me like this movie just a little bit more than it should have.

Advertisements

W35 cr6v3n kills his franchise

SCRE4M


Why was Wes Craven talking about more Scream sequels, when Scream 4 was such an obvious final nail in the coffin of his beloved horror franchise?

Another trilogy is planned. Nothing from the ending suggested a direction this could go. Nothing in the film itself suggested there was new life in the series. It was a retread, almost as bad as a remake would have been. But usually with remakes, there is some notable difference in the visual quality. Look at the Texas Chainsaw remakes. They have that gold plated, over produced sheen to them. Those movies have a “glimmer” about them, shiny and neat.

I always liked the look of the Scream movies. It was almost like a TV show, something you would see on CW (or back when they came out, WB). The killings and general grim storylines were a fun contrast to the commercial look. It’s as if they kept the fun, sunny style of “Clueless”, kept a few of its dullard characters around, and then proceeded to dispatch them in gruesome violent ways. It was a formula that succeeded.

Writer Kevin Williamson is largely responsible for bridging old school horror films from the 80s into the 90s, and the same is attempted again by bridging the 90s into the 10s. Scream is very much a 90s franchise. The noughts are reserved for Japanese horror, home invasion horror, and horror remakes. But nothing in the years between Scream 3 and Scream 4 has indicated that the franchise deserves to be revisited. The trailers had Ghostface talking about remakes, and how since it’s a new decade, there are new rules.

But the new rules aren’t very obvious. If you just watched the trailer, there’s no “aha!” moment where you feel totally compelled to dip a toe back into the murky waters of the franchise. Sure, we have cell phones. We have facebook and twitter. Add it all up, and what does it mean?

After seeing this film my suspicions were confirmed: nobody really has any idea.

Lets start with one of the weirdest details of the film. The characters still use land lines.

Second weird detail. Everyone still lives in the suburbs! How simple is it to move Ghostface to New York, like they did with Jason? Does moving Ghostface into an urban setting change the film? Absolutely not. It keeps in the tradition of following the same pattern of every slasher film every made. And since this film isn’t trying to “reinvent” slasher films, common sense tells me to move Ghostface. So if it’s a new decade, and there are new rules, the easiest way to sell that concept is to get Ghostface the fuck out of Woodsboro.

Keeping it there meant the writers got lazy with the premise. One of the survivors returns to Woodsboro on a book tour. Killings resume.

I had a lot of issue with it, because it seemed so obvious. Even the actors who reprised their roles seemed to phone it in, implying they thought it was too obvious as well. It leaves a stale, dull taste in everybody’s mouth. Especially for the audience.

So already the film had an uphill battle. The only way to make things less dull was to spice up the killings, which was my third problem with the film. Most of the killings were done with a knife, and CGI was used this time around. Wes Craven said they would look more real. And he was right about that – the stabbings look more real. But as a result of looking more real, they are harder to enjoy. I like blood and guts as much as the next guy, but stabbings seem to have more real world weight associated with them. People get stabbed in real life all the time. There’s nothing really too fun about it. Watching someone get stabbed in the movie is kind of a downer. I never really thought the killings were too fun in the earlier movies, either. The elaborate design leading up to the killings were great, and the opening scene of Scream is a perfect example of that. But there’s nothing nearly as inventive in this film. It’s safe to say there is gore here that is just gratuitous, without the enjoyment factor typically associated with that kind of violence.

What they meant by “new rules” was actually “new, younger cast”. They are pivotal to the success of the film, especially the third act which I actually enjoyed the most. That’s because we get removed from the “original cast” and stay on the “new cast” a little, and get a feel for their character dynamics for the first time in the film. Just think about that. We don’t really know who these brats are until the last, oh, twenty minutes. That makes the finale fun, and I think the script does a decent job of bringing the younger cast and the older cast together at the end.

But this film says nothing about new rules, and the new decade. The writers don’t know. Craven doesn’t know. Which explains why there is absolutely no direction for this “second trilogy” to take.

My advice? Take Ghostface to Manhattan.

Better left buried

HATCHET

The tagline for this horror film by Adam Green is, “Old School American Horror”. So there are tits all over the place, tons of gory scenes, and cameos by Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and the Candyman.

I guess this is like what Pepsi is doing now with their Pepsi Throwback sodas, using real sugar instead of that “unhealthy” corn syrup. Instead of CGI effects, Adam Green wanted to go back to the practical days of horror, using makeup and prosthesis to tear off people’s limbs. Overall it’s a pretty decent look. Most of the film is shot at night, in the woods, and that deters from some of the fun – but there’s a reason the old school horror works better than the new school horror. As consumers, we want real stuff. Not the artificial crap.

But even if you say your movie is “old school”, that’s not entirely possible. You aren’t really old school unless you’re completely sincere with your audience. If you’re winking at them, you can’t be that old school. It’s the problem horror films have today – specifically slashers. The audience is several steps ahead already, so winking at them constantly alleviates some of the crushing burden you have as a filmmaker to deliver the goods.

“Hatchet” is not the most creative, or original slasher film. But it tries to have fun, almost to a point where it’s vigourous about it. Saying this was boring could be the worst criticism against the film. The dialogue is what keeps it going. The cast they put together – the band of “survivors” that get knocked off  – is mildly entertaining to watch. None of it is scary, or suspenseful. That is the major issue with the film, since it’s hard to call something a horror film when it’s just trying to make you laugh. Every time Victor Crowley shows up, it’s like watching an oversized kid terrorize a bunch of grown ups. I appreciated the backstory to his character, where we get the flashback to his crappy childhood, and eventually, the cause of his “death”. But things like Victor never really die. They live on as legends, like Jason, Freddy, and the Candyman.

It’s what’s so interesting about slasher movies. They start with a legend. A campfire tale. Something is buried. Or sitting at the bottom of a lake. And then it comes to life, so the legend can live on.

“Hatchet” doesn’t re-invigorate the genre. But it is a successful franchise in its own right. It spawned a sequel and a third one is coming. Viewed together as a trilogy it is one big tip of the hat to the slashers we grew up on. But it feels more like a fan of those movies made his movie to commemorate those movies. Will Adam Green make 7 more sequels, just to pay homage to the fact those movies spawned that many too? It’s the only reason I could see him making more sequels.

The generic thriller

STATE OF PLAY

You ever watch a movie, and then a day later you can’t even recount what happened? Or who was in it? Or what it was even called?

You find these in grocery stores all the time. They sit on shelves in the check out aisle. They’re hidden under the weight of other horrible movies inside of large bins. The digger you deep you think, the more likely you are to find that treasure lying at the bottom. But all you find is something like State of Play.

I wish I could tell you what it’s about, but truthfully I don’t remember. There’s a journalist in it, and he goes around trying to uncover some super secret plot that just unfolds into a bigger crisis that involves politicians and the CIA. At least, I’m pretty sure it was the CIA. Shit.

Russell Crowe does a great job as the journalist with the crazy hair who goes around asking questions. He asks the right questions, he gets answers that help him unlock what he needs to know to get his story printed and out there for the people to read. The people have to know the truth. What is the truth? It’s complicated, you’ll have to watch the movie. But trust me, a day will go by. Two days will go by. Soon you’ll be at the grocery store, digging through a pile of movies and see one you haven’t watched before. Although the cover of it looks awfully familiar…aw what the hell. You’re pretty sure you’ve never seen it. And it’s only 5 bucks.

A safety tip before you go boating this summer

OPEN WATER 2: ADRIFT

The sequel to the low budget indie darling Open Water has a better premise than the original. Instead of a couple wading in water afraid of being eaten by sharks, this is about a group of friends who all jump off a boat in the ocean and don’t have a way to get back on.

Instead of sharks circling helpless humans, helpless humans circle a yacht. To add even more tension, there’s a baby on board. So even if you hate all the characters in the movie and don’t mind if they all drown, there’s that little cute baby who never did anything wrong to anybody. Of course I hoped the baby would stay asleep through at least half of the movie. Luckily the filmmakers felt the same way. The sound of a baby crying doesn’t contribute much to our enjoyment of watching people fight for their lives.

It’s a nice premise, because it’s something that could really happen. I’m not a boater myself, but I assume the design of some of those yachts only allow you to activate a ladder when you’re on the boat. That means at least one person has to stay on it. But after a few Coronas, and a blistering sun begging you to cool off in the water, it’s easy to be forgetful and take a plunge.

For those lucky enough to own boats, I think this isn’t a scenario that happens too often. Like if there’s a powerful storm and everybody gets thrown over, there has to be some kind of apparatus that lets you get back on board. The owners of those boats usually know what to do. That said, the premise of this still seems plausible, because the guy who “owns” the yacht actually doesn’t. He’s just borrowing it from his boss. I don’t think that spoils too much in terms of plot. “Wait…he doesn’t own the boat??” was not the reaction I had during the movie and I don’t think it would be yours either.

Since he doesn’t own it, that means he didn’t go through the safety checklist before setting sail. And hence, why he ends up in the ocean along with the rest of his friends.

It works just like any other horror movie. People die off one by one. For man versus nature tale, it’s fairly unconventional and I don’t remember anything else really like it. For that, it gets big marks for originality. The characters aren’t too interesting, except for one of the guys because he reminded me of Dave Coulier from Full House. Everybody else is fairly douchey which is par for the course on a project like this.

Technically, this is as straight to DVD as it gets. But if I recall the first Open Water was made with a pretty slim budget too. I never saw the first movie, but it wasn’t a requirement for me to fully enjoy this sequel. None of the characters come back, so there is a complete disassociation except for the title and the fact it takes place in a large body of water.

If you find it cheaply, it’s worth watching. Preferably before you go on your next boat trip this summer. Or if your yacht has a TV and a DVD player bring it along with you. It would be like watching “Alive” on a plane ride over the Andes.